The former chairmen of the independent commission that investigated the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks say the U.S. government is still not doing enough to protect Americans from new terrorism. Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton outlined continuing weaknesses they say are leaving the country vulnerable to attacks.
In keeping with a promise to update Americans on progress made in implementing the commission's final report, Kean and Hamilton made clear their unhappiness.
Both men noted that Congress did approve a sweeping reform of the U.S. intelligence system, and has taken other steps. But Kean recalls that a report card issued in 2005 gave the government mixed and failing grades, adding he would not change that assessment: "I have to say our perspective now, six months later, is just about the same. There is still a great deal we have to do and still haven't done, to protect the American people," he said.
Former Congressman Hamilton focused on what he calls the most important challenge facing U.S. anti-terrorism efforts - preventing nuclear terrorism.
While commending government steps to improve the detection of nuclear materials at ports and borders, he says more needs to be done, "We need a stronger, forward-leaning policy, a policy to secure nuclear materials at sites outside of the U.S. If those sites are secure, then terrorists cannot get nuclear materials. If the terrorists cannot get nuclear materials, they cannot build nuclear bombs," he said.
The former commissioners say they were surprised and disappointed by the decision of the Department of Homeland Security to reduce funding for New York City and Washington, D.C.
Allocation of government money based on estimates of terrorism risk has been a controversial issue for Congress and the Bush administration, and Kean says he fears money is being squandered. "The terrorists targeted New York and Washington. So far as we know, they continue to target those symbols of American strength and America's power. It defies our understanding of the nature of the threat to reduce funding designated to protect New York and to protect Washington. We await further explanation," he said.
The Bush administration insists the decision to cut homeland security funding for the two cities does not mean it considers them to be at a lower risk of attack then other cities.
Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney represents a district in New York City. "It clearly shows that the [Bush] administration does not get it," he said.
Kean and Hamilton were joined by family members of people killed in the al-Qaida attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
Mary Fetchet, who lost a son in one of the New York World Trade Center towers on September 11th appeared at a Capitol Hill news conference shortly before the hearing. "The report card was released by the 9/11 Commission almost six months ago, and we're hearing from them that really not much has changed since the report card came out," she said.
Carol Ashley lost a daughter on September 11. "The President and Congress sent our military overseas to fight terrorism. Meanwhile, here at home we are not as safe as we should be," she said.
The comments by the former September 11 Commission chairmen on anti-terror efforts came as President Bush spoke in New Mexico in support of a Senate-passed immigration reform bill.
The legislation faces a tough fight in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives where many lawmakers from the president's own party favor tougher measures to strengthen border controls as part of any final immigration reform bill.